Tag Archives: cancer

Milestones

In days gone by, a milestone was literally a stone or pile of stones which marked the distance along a route. A milestone reassured a traveler of the distance he/she had traveled and that they were still on the right path.

Now it also means an action or event that signifies a change in a stage of life or in one’s development. I think some seasons just have more milestones. May and June seem filled with them: weddings, anniversaries, reunions, school years ending and graduations.

Sometimes milestones seem to come along mildly and well-paced so you have time to mark them, to realize you are there, to feel all the feelings attached to that milestone and to move from where you are to the next phase.  You have time to breathe, take pictures and wipe your eyes with a special hanky. Sometimes you have time to make speeches,  celebrate and have parties and toasts.

And then, there are other seasons, when the milestones just fly by, one after the other with such a fastness about them that you feel out of breath, overwhelmed and wondering what just happened.

In the past week, our youngest child graduated from high school, accepted some scholarships and spoke at church on senior Sunday. We had three different family and friends gatherings, entertained relatives from out-of-town, celebrated his friends’ graduations and told him over and over how proud we are.

In the same week, I had a doctor’s visit where I learned for sure that I can stop taking the medication I’ve been on five years which has caused me countless side effects. I learned I only have to see the oncologist once a year now and can now do mammograms just like other women do, once a year. In the midst of all the other milestones, I cried in the parking lot happy tears of joy because it felt like a giant healing milestone. I wanted to feel it and to give God thanks for it.

Now, while we are still putting away graduation decorations, we are packing for our son’s college new student conference which begins in the morning. We will continue hovering around the milestone of getting him ready to leave the nest in just a couple of months.

In the midst of it all, our baby grandson was trying to play the piano while holding a toy (he’s a multitasker) and fell right on the corner of the piano bench getting his first big boy face boo-boo. His mom and dad were great saying, “Oh he will be fine and kids get bruised.” I could barely take it. I didn’t want that milestone to be at my house.

Milestones. They are everywhere…with so many feelings attached. Psalm 25:6, The Message translation, shares it as a prayer, “Mark the milestones of your mercy and love, God; Rebuild the ancient landmarks.”

God, be with us in our milestone moments. Help us breathe, pause and reflect at each one. Help us to notice the Holy, sweet, difficult passages in our lives and to let your mercy and love enfold each one. Amen

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Broken Courage

I was shopping at a cute store in a small town during one of my recent travels. The bracelets I was looking at were unique, a piece of curved  pottery with a word on each. If you purchased a bracelet, a portion of your purchase would go toward helping someone in need. I like that kind of thinking so I was checking them out. Something happened though and a bracelet fell on the floor and broke. I was horrified so I told the young woman I would pay for it.

When she rang up my purchases I told her, “I better see what word I broke.” It was courage. I broke courage.

As I finished my drive home, I thought about the broken courage. It’s actually the only courage I’ve known. I went to seminary at a time when not all that many women had been pastors. Only one of the  four churches I  served had ever had a female pastor before me. It took courage to break ground like that but I did it, one relationship at a time, sermon by sermon, wedding by wedding, funeral by funeral.

I’ve been a hospital chaplain along the way.  I’ve walked into some awful situations to try to represent God to people. I’ve seen some things you would never want to see. I guess it took courage. I just did it one pager call at a time.

My hospice work was the same.  I didn’t know how to help people die well before I just started entering into the lives of terminal patients, one by one. I just tried to trust God and listen to people and it worked.

Being a wife and a mom of three and a grandmother now takes courage.  It takes courage just to love people but also to let them grow, mature, change and disagree with you. It takes courage to realize how much you love them and how incredibly vulnerable you are to whatever happens to them.

Cancer made me call up my courage. Many an appointment or scan, I’ve had to conquer my fear just to show up. Taking a little white pill daily these past five years has stretched my courage because of all the side effects it presents me with.

It has taken courage to endure what’s happening in my home (we are on the third week now of living out of our garage due to a remodel that we orchestrated.)  Americans are having to be quite courageous to make it past November 8, 2016. Do you think we will? I’ve had to try very hard not to either burst into tears or punch people I care about over it.

I’m about to try something totally new that makes me have butterflies in my tummy because I am 100% out of my element. I’m doing it anyway which is the broken and courageous part, I guess.

I’ve pretty much only every had  broken courage  but it works, especially when combined with a dose of faith, prayer and trust.

I’ve got a new treasure I keep in my purse to remind me how it is. It’s a small broken  courage bracelet. And strangely, it is enough.

Gripey or Grateful?

Over the weekend, we watched Unbroken, the true story of World War II POW Louis Zamperini. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I won’t spoil it for you. Just know that for years, Mr. Zamperini endured one horror after another from sharks to gunfire to hunger and beatings.

My takeaway from the movie was that I should never, ever complain about anything again.  That was Saturday.  By Sunday, I found myself grumbling that I have to get up EVERY Sunday at 5:30 a.m. to go to work. I was disgruntled that I was driving to church in the dark due to daylight savings time. Today I was griping with anxiety over my every-six-months mammogram and that I have to even think about cancer at all.  Last week I got a tiny bit irritated that my mom called me six times in one day.  I also complained because my husband and son went camping and forgot half their gear and spent the equivalent of a nice hotel vacation replacing the forgotten items.  And yes, it bothered me that they took along a Keurig coffee maker because that just seems wrong on so many levels.

Today, I’m vowing once again to stop griping and be grateful.  I’m grateful for my job even with those early Sunday hours.  I’m grateful for the wonder of medical science watching over me with the newest technology.  I’m grateful for my health and the doctor who told me this morning “all clear.”  I’m grateful for a mom who is alive and well and wants to talk to me.  I’m grateful for a husband and son who want to spend time together, even if it is quite costly and they cheat on proper camping coffee- making.

I know we are pretty far into the Lenten journey to be giving up things at this point.  But I have to do it.  I’m giving up griping for gratitude.

Gratitude 2.0

Last week, on one of my days off, I took a little extra time to journal all I was grateful for, I’d listed my health, my family, friends, having a meaningful job to do and our church family when I heard a huge bang, followed by a sizzle and then we lost all power.

Suddenly, there I was with no lights, no air, no ceiling fan (it was still hot in Texas last week), no computer or internet and no hot coffee in the coffee pot.  It was time to re-group.  I decided it would be a great time to get a few things done off the to-do list.  Laundry? No, you need power for that.  Shower? A shower was possible but how do you do make up in the dark or hair without a blow dryer or curling iron? I could catch up on emails. Not without power.  Maybe I should just run errands, I thought.  No, wait, can’t even get out of the garage without my electric door opener.  Yes, I know there’s a way to do it manually but it was pitch black in the garage with no power so I gave up.

So, by default, I headed to the back patio with my journal and re-visited the gratitude list.  There, I realized my gratitude had not gone deep enough.  I needed to take it to a whole new level.  I had not even thought about all the basics and amenities I enjoy every day like electricity, lights and power or for that matter clean, running hot and cold water or that I have plenty of food in the pantry, freezer and refrigerator.  I had not thought to list our home and all the comforts I enjoy here.

When I was going through the hardest part of cancer treatment three years ago, one of the ways I coped was by trying to stay in the moment and by listing daily all I had to be grateful for.  Last week’s power outage reminded me again how important gratitude is.  I just need to regularly take it to the next level.

Time Out

In football games, a time out is for re-grouping, strategizing, managing the clock, drinking Gatorade and sometimes just for messing with the game plan of your opponent.

In child rearing, a time out is to remove a child from his/her cycle of behavior; to teach him/her what is not acceptable through a bit of negative reinforcement; to teach the little one that he/she is not in control. When our now 21-year-old son was in his terrible twos, he threw temper tantrums whenever he didn’t get his way. He would simply melt, wail and flail. I was determined to win, so would pick him up, this solid, heavy, sturdy toddler boy and deposit him in his room. I told him the same thing every time, “I know you are upset. When you can calm yourself, you can come back out here with the family.”

To his stubborn credit, he’d try, oh, he’d try coming out to tantrum some more. I just kept depositing him back in his room to calm himself. Each time, it got worse. Bruised from his well-placed kicks, I’d be covered in his snot and tears and some of mine. He’d pinch. He’d try to bite. He threw toys at the door a few times. I just stayed on message and kept delivering him to time out.

One day, just like that, he stopped with the tantrums. Fast forward 19 years, he is now a 6’2″, 195 lb. young man; still quite sturdy and strong; a happy, productive, funny person who knows how to calm himself. You’re welcome world. Thank you, time out.

Time outs work. Time outs are effective. We all need them.

In the last few weeks, several factors in my world converged to create a need for a time out for me. In retrospect I now understand it was the “perfect storm” of:
–The medication I am on to prevent a breast cancer recurrence, Tamoxifen.
–The medications I was on to counter the side effects of Tamoxifen.
–Good things, like a packed fall schedule, high school and college football games, friends, social events, jobs.
–Stress-being a pastor is a tad bit stressful. I don’t want to whine but we pastors tend to absorb a lot of pain–people’s personal pain, institutional pain, pain meant for God, plus the painful sweetness that comes with trying to live out faith in community.
–Hormones-imagine throwing in the mix a whole pile of pre-menopausal hormones which Tamoxifen is trying to shut down while my body hard at work making more hormones. No kidding, I have a little hormone tsunami inside of me at all times.
-Our dog-our vet told us a few weeks ago that our Golden Retriever, Rusty who has been a part of our family since 2001, has Canine Sarcoma (Doggy Cancer) and only has a short time left to be with us.
–Mix in a day or two of not eating right and some insomnia.

I cracked. And, a time out on the field was called. I didn’t call it. I couldn’t even see that I needed it. I strongly felt that play should continue as usual. I was the sturdy two-year old bundle of tears, angst and snot who kept reappearing in the family room. Time out for re-grouping, breathing, finding a new strategy, re-calibrating. Time out.

Yesterday, in many parts of our nation, the sleet, ice and snow created a national time out. We stopped. No school. Flights cancelled. Holiday parties called off. Christmas parades and other elaborate holiday events stopped in their tracks. Time out for weather.

Our younger son, an over-programmed high school student, found a sled in the attic and played outside for hours. I sat by the fire, writing, reading and reflecting on why we need time outs. We made soup, checked on those we loved, played cards and snuggled in. Now we are on day two of this time out. “Shouldn’t we be doing something productive?” we ask ourselves. Turns out, we don’t. It is okay. Our work today is to be in time out.

We are all more fragile than we think. We are all prone to cycles of too much–too much emotion, activity, trantrum-ing, stress and busyness.

Sometimes we need to hit pause; call for a time out; suspend time and our activities for a while. Rest. Regroup. Re-strategize. Calm ourselves.

Thank God for the time out.

The Sweet and the Bitter

This past week I’ve been acutely aware of some milestone moments, like the two year anniversary of my cancer surgery.  I was aware of feeling so grateful not to be re-living that day again but also so happy to be two years down the road, still here, still healthy, enjoying life.   At the same time, our son got his Aggie ring at Texas A&M…you have to have 90 college hours to even order it.  Then, to get it, such a moment of pride and celebration.  We Aggies take Aggie rings very seriously.  We have 9 Aggie rings in our extended family.  Sweet.  

Intertwined with all that came the news of the shooting at the Naval yard shootings.  Bitter.

Friday night as we were celebrating with our son and his friends, we were on a covered porch enjoying dinner outside.  It was pouring rain and it was cool outside.  We haven’t seen rain in a long time in Texas, nor felt anything like cool air. Sweet. 

Then came the news of the shootings in the park in Chicago.  “Really?” I thought,  “Another shooting?”  Bitter.

Saturday was one of those amazing beautiful days in Texas, we were with our family and friends before and after a great Texas A&M football game.  Sweet. 

But in Kenya, there was terror, lives lost.  In Pakistan, a church shooting that killed so many.  Bitter.

I learned a long time ago that life is bittersweet.  The beautiful milestone moments are always mixed with difficult times.  I also learned a long time ago that none of us can be truly happy as long as one of us is suffering.    

What is so unbelievable is that we are doing it to ourselves.  Humans gunning down one another at work, in the park, in the mall in places of worship.   We do need saving from ourselves, we really do.